New research shows a potential correlation between severe vitamin D deficiency and COVID-19 mortality rates. A Northwestern University study released last week found that patients from countries with high death rates had lower levels of vitamin D compared to patients in countries with fewer mortalities.
Seattle-area startup Solius, which sells light therapy kiosks that can help people increase vitamin D levels, suddenly finds itself in a unique position amid the global pandemic.
The company today announced additional investment from Human Longevity Inc. as it explores how its technology could play a role in the fight against COVID-19 by strengthening the immune system and reducing the severity of the disease.
“Further studies will be needed to validate this connection and we are working to engage in clinical trials that will prove the efficacy of our device on this devastating disease,” said Solius CEO Bob Wise.
Researchers from Northwestern cautioned that vitamin D levels won’t prevent contraction of COVID-19, but could make a difference in how the body fights the disease. They found a correlation between vitamin D levels and cytokine storm, a condition caused by an overactive immune system.
“Cytokine storm can severely damage lungs and lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome and death in patients,” Ali Daneshkhah, a postdoctoral research associate at Northwestern, said in a press release. “This is what seems to kill a majority of COVID-19 patients, not the destruction of the lungs by the virus itself. It is the complications from the misdirected fire from the immune system.”
Foundational research strongly suggests a link between vitamin D and COVID-19 outcomes.
Another study from Anglia Ruskin University in the U.K. “found an association between low average levels of vitamin D and high numbers of COVID-19 cases and mortality rates across 20 European countries.”
Some experts criticized the Northwestern study — which has not been peer-reviewed — for not controlling “major confounding factors,” among other reasons, Inverse reported.
Solius published its own white-paper this week about the impact of vitamin D on COVID-19. The company cited cytokine storms and studies that show vitamin D combating respiratory infections. It also quoted former CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden, who said in March that “regular physical activity and adequate vitamin D levels probably have the most scientific evidence” to increase resistance to COVID-19 infection.
Solius is working with leading phototherapy and vitamin D experts to develop and execute its own trials to study how the company’s kiosks could treat and/or prevent COVID-19.
“Foundational research strongly suggests a link between vitamin D and COVID-19 outcomes,” Wise said. “We look forward to adding to this body of research and investigating the impact our technology may have on supporting human health in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Solius’ light therapy uses a narrow spectrum of ultraviolet light that can stimulate the production of critical hormones and peptides. In 2018 it started rolling out light therapy kiosks in Vancouver, B.C., that help users increase vitamin D levels.
The therapy is an alternative to vitamin D pills, a solution that Solius previously told GeekWire isn’t sufficient to address the problem of vitamin D deficiency.
An estimated 1 billion people worldwide have inadequate levels of vitamin D, according to Harvard University, and research shows that deficiency is a more pressing problem than once thought.
Wise said the company expects FDA approval for its kiosks next year.
“We are excited to invest in SOLIUS as its mission is to provide the benefits of the sun without the harmful rays to unlock the healing powers of the human body,” Wei-Wu He, executive chairman at HLI, said in a statement.
Solius has raised $18 million to date. The 7-year-old company has seven employees. Wise replaced former CEO Rick Hennessey, who relocated to Florida for family reasons.